Search rankings are still incredibly important. For many businesses, search rankings are the main pipeline for leads and sales -- and that naturally makes SEO incredibly important, too.

But what if your rankings are poor, especially compared to your competition? (Since, after all, ranking higher than your competitors is what really matters.) How can you make sure you don't waste time chasing the wrong initiatives, the wrong keywords, and the wrong SEO opportunities?

The key is to look at SEO in a holistic way, taking into account a variety of factors... not just chasing individual keyword rankings. While I don't know how to do that, I do know someone who does.

Sastry Rachakonda is the CEO of iQuanti, the data-driven digital marketing company which just launched ALPS, a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) platform with the industry's first simulation capability that lets business confidently drive natural search traffic and maximize ROI with its predictive algorithm.

Here's Sastry:

Winning in the SEO space is a relative game. In theory, businesses understand that the ultimate goal is not to be perfect but to be better than competition. When it comes to strategy and execution however, this perspective can be lost.

Your SEO strategy likely has multiple initiatives running simultaneously. But all initiatives are not created equal and do not yield equal results. Search Engines give different importance to different variables. So focusing on the variables with most importance is likely to give you a lot bigger impact.

As you start your SEO project, identify the search terms that people use to search for the product or service you have to offer. Then conduct a thorough SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) of your site relative to your competition.

You don't have to be better than your competitors in every respect -- you just need to focus on your strengths. As long as your overall score is higher for a keyword family, you will do well.

Remember to keep your SWOT analysis quantifiable; identify where you are ahead of competition, at par or behind; identify the biggest performance gap and the contingent factors; and finally, prioritize the next steps.

To get started, remember:

1. Each business has 4 critical SEO variables to measure and track including off-page, on-page, technical and social.

Compile a list of all the SEO variables you need to measure, and identify the sources where these can be tracked.

2. Not all SEO variables are equally impactful.

Develop an attribution model that quantifies highest to lowest impacts. Again, remember that treating all the variables equally results in time consuming, and usually ineffective efforts.

3. Score yourself and the highest ranked competitors.

Clean-up and consolidate your data. For on-page data, convert your raw data (which may be in the form of elements of the page in text format) into metrics that can measure relevance. This means going beyond simple, exact matches and being able to define metrics which can effectively work with Google's complex algorithms that understand semantics and intent.

For example, you may look at keyword family density (including synonyms) on the page.

For link data, create aggregate metrics that summarize the authority of the page and the domain. Analyzing all the variables across your page and your competitors' page will give you insights into areas where your page needs improvement.

4. Identify the strongest gaps between you and your competition. The amount of work required to get your page to the top is not just a function of where you currently rank but also based on how big the gap is.

Focus on your low hanging fruit - where the gaps are small but the opportunities are big. Moving from rank 8 to rank 2 on the search engine ranking page may have much more benefit than moving from fifth page to second page.

Taking this data driven scoring and prioritization approach to SEO will help achieve much better results than an indiscriminate approach to SEO.